"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pride and Prejudice

No, it's not about the Bush administration, at least on the face of it. I'm reading the Austen novel, which I don't recall ever having read before (although there are story line echoes that make me wonder if maybe I haven't). It's marvelous -- laugh-out-loud funny in places, particularly in Mr Bennet's reactions to his familly, particularly his wife.

One one level, it's about looking at evidence, realizing you could have been wrong in your assumptions, and changing your mind. On that score, Elizabeth Bennet would have made a better president than George W. Bush.

It's also a terrific read. Drawing close to the end now, and I can't believe the amount of dramatic tension that Austen was able to build into a comedy of manners. It's no wonder that in my younger days I stayed up all night reading Emma.

At Random

You may have noticed I've stopped doing the periodic "At Random" posts. In fact, everything has been at random lately, but with longer, separate posts. It just seems to work better that way, or it would if any of you would ever leave a comment.

Jeebus! Don't you ever argue with anybody?

Ten Most

The only list we need to pay attention to this year, from Dahlia Lithwick.

A Lesson In Our Common Humanity

Which reminds me of the mother who tells her child
"When you're walking through the graveyard at night
and you see a boogeyman, run at it,
and it will go away."

"But what," replies the child, "if the boogeyman's
Mother has told it to do the same thing?
Boogeymen have mothers too."

By Rumi, courtesy Scott Horton at Balkinization. Read the whole post.

The Obligatory Post on Saddam Hussein

My man-on-the-street reaction: old news. In the public perception, he was dead two years ago. And, all things considered, it doesn't matter:

But members of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, on patrol in an overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, said the execution wouldn't get them home any faster — and therefore didn't make much difference.

"Nothing really changes," said Capt. Dave Eastburn, 30, of Columbus, Ohio. "The militias run everything now, not Saddam."

As for the trial and all of it, I think I do consider that Greg Djerejian has the right of it:

But it is clear as day that this judicial process, not least the rush to execution, positively reeked of victor's justice. This is not to say the trial could not have been even worse, as genuine attempts by some in the USG were made to assist the Iraqi authorities in putting together a credible tribunal. But, like the rest of the Iraq War, it was mostly a fiasco (see here for detail regarding some of the many shortcomings in the process).

To be sure, an international war crimes tribunal sitting in the Hague, or a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, either would have been far better than the process we witnessed--particularly given the critical imperative of forging better national reconciliation among Iraq's different ethnic groups and sects. And, yes, as David Kurtz points out, we cannot help sensing in the motley gaggle of hooded hangmen (pictured above) a revanchist, vigilante-style justice that gives the lie to the impartiality of the entire process.

Above all, however, what saddens me in all this was that Saddam was not methodically tried and convicted while alive, not only for the murder of the males of one hapless Shi'a villlage on the outskirts of Baghdad, but for the entire gamut of his despicable crimes--his brutal campaign of genocide in Kurdistan, his massacres of thousands upon thousands of Marsh Arabs, his command decisions during the long Iran-Iraq war, and more. Could we not have tried him in the Hague, even if it lasted past Bush's Presidency, say, on the whole panoply of crimes he was rightly accused of, with witnesses, prosecution and defense teams better protected, rather than under a state of seige, with fewer grave shortcomings in standards of judicial procedure, and above all, with a better sense that justice had been pursued deliberately rather than in a vengeful (however understandable) rush to execution?

I don't necessarily agree with the "motley crew" idea -- I think that's very much a Western pundit take on the circumstances, which, after all, are taking place in a non-Western context. There are good reasons for the hoods, as there have always been but probably even more so in this case, and I'm sorry they're not wearing official uniforms, but we should remember that, along with the styles of Western dress, we've also exported some of the modes of Western informality.

I think no matter where the trial were held, or under what forms, there would be a certain element that would label it "revenge." As it happened, it's just that much easier for anyone who wants to to make that assumption.

As for Djerejian's plaintive cry for a more thorough, far-reaching, and careful trial, "even if it lasted past Bush's Presidency," surely that was the whole point: so far, this is the high point of the Bush presidency, the trial and executiion of a minor dictator for crimes that were, in the sum total of his activities while in power, also relatively minor. Update: Apparently Josh Marshall feels the same way about it:

Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.

Jane Hamsher has some insights on the whole greasy-dirty feel of this episode. (I can't condemn it on the basis of disapproving the death penalty, which I do, because I can't take something like the death penalty as an abstraction. Sometimes, when it gets down to cases, there's just nothing else you can do if you are going to make the correct statement. As it stands, it's just another botch disguised as victory by the incompetents in charge.)

Of course, one has to wonder about the motivation for the timing of the execution:

"His execution on the day of Eid ... is an insult to all Muslims," said Jordanian pilgrim Nidal Mohammad Salah. "What happened is not good because as a head of state, he should not be executed."

The Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, marks biblical patriarch Abraham's willingness to kill his son for God. Muslim countries often pardon criminals to mark the feast, and prisoners are rarely executed at that time.

Speaking of the Bush presidency, Glenn Greenwald draws the necessary, if somewhat obvious, connection. From the president's statement:

Today, Saddam Hussein was executed after receiving a fair trial -- the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime.

Fair trials were unimaginable under Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule. It is a testament to the Iraqi people's resolve to move forward after decades of oppression that, despite his terrible crimes against his own people, Saddam Hussein received a fair trial. This would not have been possible without the Iraqi people's determination to create a society governed by the rule of law.

If Alan Moore were writing for The Onion, you might get something close to this.

Take a look at this post by Barbara O'Brien at C&L as well. Food for thought.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

More on Music

Since I was discussing music a while back, I thought I'd jot down a few more thoughts.

"Classically trained" pop singers seem to have great cachet, but did anyone ever wonder why they didn't go on to become classically trained classical singers -- their generation's answer to Flagstad, Nilsson, Windgassen, Bergonzi? Maybe they just couldn't cut it. Flagstad once said that the key to singing Wagner was the phrasing -- the power was no greater than other composers, but a mistake in phrasing could destroy you on stage. Most popular music doesn't require a singer to hold anything for longer than a couple of bars.

Not only has sophisticated musicianship become an expectation in pop music, it's a requirement. The artlessly crude renderings that some groups commit as either "rebellion" or a "return to their roots" is simply a waste of time, as far as I'm concerned. You want to do something original and significant? Pull a Bartok -- get far enough into another music tradition that you can translate its foundations into your own idiom without damange to either. Then I might think you've done something worthwhile. Maybe even interesting.

Either that, or take some real chances. I think that's why groups like Depeche Mode and The Eagles are still among my favorites. They took some real chances. On the other side, just make normal music, but do it superlatively well, like Foreigner or someone like that. I've been sitting here listending to Depeche Mode's Ultra, released in '97, which is after I had stopped listening to DM for a while. For anyone else, especially a younger group, it would have been a mess, no focus, wildly variable in style, derivative, you name it. The problem would be worse for anyone coming to the disc without knowing DM: "This is the great Depeche Mode?"

OK -- I know Depeche Mode, at least until Depeche Mode 101, so I think I have a good take on what they are capable of.

It's an incredible album. Fluent, easy, a greater emotional range than anything I'd ever heard from them before (although actually, the first intimations of that range were maybe in Violator, with its alternations of angst, darkness, and an honestly that was almost innocent). And it takes some serious chances. It's a risky album, and on the whole, it works. "Masterful," I think is the word.

Speaking of Violator, it holds up very well. "Halo" is still one of the sexiest songs I've ever heard. That's one that has a dance that happens in my when I hear it (see next post). I love the whole idea of that song -- full speed ahead and damn the moralists!

La Valse

I tend to have a highly visual response to music -- if I find something really engaging, there will be a visual narrative going on in my head while I'm listening. Some things, like opera, tend to provide their own scenarios: it's hard not to visualize Don Giovanni or Das Reingold while listening to Don Giovanni or Das Reingold. Other works are more open to interpretation, and there are some that sometimes present themselves as soundtracks for segments of my life, or the world in general.

The second strongest response I have is to visualize a dance -- I choreograph things in my head, if the music is sufficiently visceral. (No, this is not limited to rock or pop -- Schubert can be amazingly visceral.)

One work that has been subject to both reactions is Ravel's La Valse. I always visualized, at the beginning, a glittering ballroom -- Vienna, perhaps in the spring or summer of 1914. A beautiful, richly gowned woman is led to the floor by an elegant but faceless man. They are the height of fashionable society, and as the music begins to find its rhythm, they embark on a graceful waltz. But gradually, the music becomes strident, the dancing more intense, and there are explosions, the tall windows along the side of the hall shatter, great crystal chandeliers crash to the floor, the floor itself cracks and the cracks become chasms, and as the woman's panic increases, her partner's grip becomes more and more unbreakable, the devastation more and more frightening, until she is left standing on a pinnacle, staring at the devastation around her, completely unprepared to deal with it.

Pick a time period -- the past week, the past year, the past six years, since Reagan, since JFK, and think about the events and the context they created.

Or just read the headlines.

Bainbridge Redux

Some follow-up by Clive Davis at Andrew Sullivan. The bottom line is still that Bainbridge is full of it, but the amazing thing is the focus on the completely irrelevant question* of Edwards' pro bono work, or lack of it.

First, as the second comment from a reader about contingencies and pro bono should make clear, the original canard is simply that -- an attempt to swiftboat Edwards. To raise that as an issue simply points up the poverty of Bainbridge's attack to begin with -- if there were any substance, there would be no need for the pro bono question.

(* Oops -- forgot. This is still Andrew Sullivan's blog. It is more relevant than Ann Althouse, but then, "more relevant" is entirely relative.)

Alternate Realities

One really has to wonder. I find it hard to believe something like this isn't satire.

Thanks to Digby. Digby's quote is from Grover Norquist, another one of those people who's never held office but seems to have had a lot to do with running the country under the Republicans. That in itself is sort of an interesting phenomenon, especially when one considers how much influence the actual elected Republican leadership in Congress had on policy decisions -- compared to the likes of, say, Norquist, Dobson, Wildmon, General Electric, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, and so forth. I'd like to be able to say "those days are behind us," but I don't believe it. I think it will just be less blatant.

Friday, December 29, 2006


I'm really glad I'm too old and cynical to take the likes of Stephen Bainbridge as any sort of authority. On anything. While I'm not particularly partial to Edwards, he seems one of the brighter possibilities in the not-Hillary, not-Obama spectrum, and a hell of a sight better than anything the Republicans are offering (Romney? McCain? Lieberman? Brownback?).

Given the deleterious effects the trial lawyer industry has had on the American economy, as ably demonstrated by the Manhattan Institute's Trial Lawyers Inc. project, I remain unconvinced that a trial lawyer ought to have much authority over the economy.

Time to take Bainbridge apart. First, the Manhattan Institute, home of Trial Lawyers, Inc., is a conservative think tank proud to include among its present and/or past board members Wiliam Kristol and Peggy Noonan, two of the more blinkered knee-jerk rightwingers around. Second, Trial Lawyers, Inc. is nothing more than a hatchet job on one of corporate America's favorite targets -- the tort system.

Bainbridge cites his criticism of Edwards' approach to corporate governance, a bit which ends up with:

The root economic argument against shareholder activism thus becomes apparent. Large-scale shareholder involvement in corporate decisionmaking seems likely to disrupt the very mechanism that makes the modern public corporation practicable; namely, the centralization of essentially nonreviewable decisionmaking authority in the board of directors. Given the significant virtues of discretion, one ought not lightly interfere with management or the board's decisionmaking authority in the name of accountability. Preservation of managerial discretion should always be the null hypothesis. The separation of ownership and control mandated by U.S. corporate law precisely that effect. Empowering shareholders therefore may be good politics these days, but its bad public policy.

A couple of things going on here: he reports Edwards' position as favoring allowing shareholders to nominate directors without the use of proxies. Somehow, in Bainbridge's discussion, this becomes shareholders' direct participation in decision-making, i.e., management. Second, and I'm admittedly fuzzy on the timeline, but it seems to me that Enron et al. had happened before this was posted in 2003. If so, this whole post is just the least bit disingenuous. If not, the disingenuous part is citing it now without any disclaimer.

And note Bainbridge's insistence on the preservation of the board's nonreviewable decision-making authority. Sound familiar? Sort of a sub rosa Apologia Pro Vita Sua for the Bush administration, which of course takes as its model a highly paranoid version of corporate governance -- which Bush couldn't manage to make work in the corporate sector.

In short, what Bainbridge faults Edwards for proposing is a remedy to the very abuses that make such a remedy necessary to begin with -- unless, of course, you are Stephen Bainbridge, in whose universe whatever corporate management does is fine because they know best and are more honest and loyal and brave and trustworthy than the rest of us. Or something.

The other piece that Bainbridge cites is just a smear on "trial lawyers," that right-wing catch-all for anyone who dares to hold corporate America accountable for anything. The most egregious transgression is his long quote from The Washington Times (an unimpeachable source, to be sure), in which the reporter actually establishes nothing, but does so in a remarkably sinister way. The idea that new evidence on the causes of cerebral palsy indicates that Edwards "and his fellow malpractice practitioners" were somehow part of a sinister plot against the medical profession for working on the evidence they had at the time is something that, apparently, only Bainbridge could believe. Of course, Bainbridge apparently believes that no accountability is superior to any accountability at all.

As for the second part of the slam, Bainbridge once again relies extensively (entirely) on The Washington Times, which one of his readers debunks in the comments. The man really has to start reading some real newspapers. (And have you noticed how those leaning to the right -- the party of privilege and wealth -- think it's somehow sinful for Democrats to be well off? Or it should at least count against them in an election.)

I'm happy to note that Bainbridge gets roundly thumped by the majority of his readers. Brought to us, as might be expected, by Clive Davis at Andrew Sullivan, where Bainbridge still seems to have some credibility. (As for Bainbridge's main source, see this story by Barbara O'Brien at C&L.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

a/k/a Hunter

Of course, the minute I actually deleted the old "Hunter's Eye" and began construction of the new site, under the name "a/k/a Hunter," I came down with pneumonia-or-whatever. Not much left for site-building, and I had wanted to have it completed by New Year's Day.

Well. We'll see.

i hab a code

Actually, it was somewhat more severe than that -- feels mostly like a brief -- and blessedly mild -- touch of pneumonia. I spent the day after Christmas in bed with a raging fever. I guess I wasn't all there on Christmas day, either, or only sporadically -- I barely remember posting, although I do remember going to see Casino Royale that afternoon. (As if even a raging fever could make me forget Daniel Craig -- a marvelous actor with a very high "yum" quotient.)

At any rate, I'm back, more or less, although physical exertion still takes it out of me far in excess of what it should -- lungs are still touchy, and I'm still coughing up goo.

Well -- enough of pneumonia, which is not something I really want to wax philosophical about.

As for Casino Royale, I haven't seen that much in the way of reviews or other commentary, but what I have seen leads me to believe a lot of people are missing the point. No, of course this is not the James Bond of Goldfinger. This is a young, rough-around-the-edges James Bond and that's deliberate -- it's a pre-Bond Bond. (If nothing else, the end of this one, with the original Bond theme, should nail that down.) Sorry -- Craig is just as sexy as Connery, but it's an edgy, awkward, young cat kind of sexy rather than Connery's laid back, grown-up cat kind of sexy. I saw one comment that ascribed a confusing story line to bad editing. Well, two things: if you're not at least a little confused in a James Bond movie, you're not paying attention; and I didn't find the story line at all incoherent. (That may have been due to my own condition -- see above -- but I don't really think so.)

Judi Dench offers an amazingly subtle performance as M, as, for that matter, does Craig as Bond.

The refreshing part of this is that we finally have a James Bond movie that isn't self-parody, after way too many years.

The damnable part of this is that I was going to go see a Lord of the Rings marathon this afternoon and evening, and I'm just not well enough. Feh.

In Defense of Ann Althouse

Believe it or not. The "left-wing" blogosphere is taking Althouse to task for this post:

A key question -- with an unknowable answer -- is: How many Americans would have died in post-9/11 attacks if we had not chosen the path of fighting back?

So far, I agree with the bloggers who are eating her alive on this one. It's not only a stupid question, it's pointless -- it strikes me as Althouse reaching desperately for profundity of a sort that only an academic would recognize as such; anyone else would call it pretention. (The question itself is also incredibly sloppy -- see below.)

Then she follows up with this statement:

So many people -- in the comments and on other blogs -- are attributing things to me that I did not write here. Reading with comprehension has, apparently, become optional. Amusingly, the blundering blowhards out there keep calling me and idiot. Mirrors are in short supply these days.

Temper, temper, Ann! If you're going to make deliberately ambiguous statements on a public forum, you have to be prepared for the fallout. They're attributing things that you did not write here because what you wrote was designed that way. Come on -- this is a law professor, and are you telling me that she can't formulate a question more precisely and accurately than that?

The whole stance is -- how shall I say it? -- more than a little disingenuous.

Pure speculation, since I don't know Althouse personally, but it fits the pattern I've seen on her blog: she's fishing for exactly the reaction she's getting from the progressives as a means of generating some kind of discussion because, as I've also seen from prior posts, she has absolutely nothing of her own to contribute to such a discussion.

My defense of Althouse? Simple:

If you run through the comments on this post, you will see that it doesn't take long for her readers to challenge her on exactly the grounds I've cited: she's deliberately posing an ambiguous question and then trying to weasel out of it by saying she never said that (which she does regularly), with the added fillip of now having an opportunity to get bitchy with cause. (As if anyone ever needed an excuse for a little bitchery. Really.)

So I have to hand it to Ann Althouse: unlike many (most?) of those online of her political persuasian (and I'm sorry, but while she's to the left of Attila the Hun, she's way to the right of me on most issues -- when you can actually get her to commit to a position), she actually allows challenges and disagreements in her comments. (Please don't take that as a blanket statement about anything. I don't read enough conservative blogs to be able to make an accurate determination, but of those I have had occasion to read, more often than not the commenters seem to be in lockstep with the posters; I've been called a "troll" for posing what I felt was a legitimate question, had comments "lost" to spam filters, and like experiences. I can't say that the left is any better -- although they've been considerate enough to ask to me censor myself, rather than taking care of it for me.)

(Footnote, apropos of nothing: Reading Citizen Crain yesterday and ran across his laudatory comments on GayPatriot having reached their millionth hit. Well, congratulations to them, but if I want someplace to visit a conservative viewpoint, I'll stick with Andrew Sullivan. I don't always agree with Sullivan, by any means, but at least I can believe that he has some contact with objective reality. [As I may have mentioned, it was the post on the "Democrats' Culture of Corruption" at GayPatriot that did it. That, and the presumption that non-conservative gays are not patriotic.] Apparently, Crain has decided that reality is no longer marketable. The more I think on it, the more Crain's description of GayPatriot as someplace for gay conservatives explains a lot of things -- like the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that I stopped understanding along about 1994.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Soul Searching

Via Digby and Steve Gilliard comes this story from the LA Times:

Recent gay-sex scandals involving evangelical pastors have prompted much soul-searching among conservative Christian leaders.

No one has proposed rethinking the theology that homosexuality is a sin. Instead, there's a growing consensus that the church must do a better job of helping pastors resist all immoral desires, such as a lust for pornography, an addiction to drugs or a lifelong same-sex attraction.

Digby seems to think that the recent revelations of closeted gay clergy in the evangelical movement will lead to a closer engagement with reality. I don't agree. (Yes, this is related to yesterday's post, which got posted today.)

It may lead, eventually, to acceptance of homosexuality as a facet of the natural in evangelical circles, much the same way that left-handedness is no longer considered a sign of Satan. (Yes, it was, truly.) In fact, left-handedness seems a better analogy for homosexuality than anything else I've seen: it's not immediately apparent, it can be hidden, people can be trained to resist it in favor on right-handedness, and it's intrinsic. If it does lead anywhere, though, it's going to take generations.

At any rate, the thrust of the article is still that evangelicals are in denial about homosexuality. It strikes me that's one of the main drawbacks of operating on received wisdom. In light of the recent discovery of the Gospel of Judas, and the fact that the Bible as presently constituted was selected from a larger group of existing scriptures, to take it as God's dictum that homosexuality is "an abomination" seems ludicrous -- it's all been the result of human editing of divine write to begin with -- the whole literalist argument loses any credibility right there.

Digby sees it this way:

But there is actually some good news in this, I think. Under these peoples' belief system, being gay is one of the worst sins around. Yet they are carving out a moral exception for gay preachers -- the men who are supposed to set the standards and lead the people. Would they allow murderers to keep preaching? Thieves?

He misses the point that they already carve out moral exceptions for their leaders. Bearing false witness? It depends on who the target is. Worshipping Mammon? It funds the good fight. Render unto Caesar? Become Caesar. This won't be any different: pastors with "urges" will confess them to their peers, be encouraged to keep denying their basic nature, and go on to vilify gays some more. DIgby misses the point that, in their worldview, things like homosexuality are choices. These are not religious in the mainstream denominations who are, in all essentials, products of the Enlightenment, with an emphasis on reason, free inquiry, and the good of humanity at the core. (I except, of course, the pope, who is much more allied to the authoritarian evangelicals than anyone else.) These are authoritarians who don't question "traditional" intepretations of scripture, but merely restate them for their followers.

At any rate, I'm not sanguine about there being any impact on evangelical thinking by anything so irrelevant as reality. These sorts of scandals seem to happen about once a decade; these are not the first high-profile anti-gay preachers to be caught in compromising situations with men, and they won't be the last. The one thing I don't think we'll see is any genuine soul searching.

Season's Greetings

A general story about Pagans, sparked by the fact that the VA is being sued over grave markers. (Weird, that.)

I should point out one major inaccuracy in the story: "Wicca" is a -- hmm, call it a "denomination" -- within Paganism. It's a specific tradition with particular basic tenets that are not necessarily shared by all Pagans. However, most of the literature you're going to see on it (in the "Occult" section of the bookstore, rather than the "Religion" section, which seems somehow bigoted) is about Wicca. The best source I've seen for at least a brief description of other traditions is Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, which is sort of a survey-history of Paganism in the US.

As far as Pagans and Christmas, I don't have any problem with celebrating Christmas -- the holiday in all its fundamentals is the same: the (re)birth of the Sun, who is also the Son of the Goddess. The actual holiday is Yule, observed at the solstice, but in the old calendar, everything is set five days back (hence Beltane, May 1, becomes Cinco de Mayo, and Yule could be celebrated on December 25 or 26). Besides, most of the traditions are Pagan anyway. (The hagiography of Christ fits in perfectly with that of the Pagan God anyway -- essentially a solar deity who sacrifices himself for his people and is resurrected/reborn. It's just that Christianity got the timing wrong, for political reasons, mostly.)

So, a Blessed Yule to all.

Nutjob Survey

(This is actually yesterday's major post, but due to technical difficulties -- no, I wasn't bloggered, I was earthlinked -- it went unposted.)

We tend to write off the religious nutjobs in this country, because no one sane can possibly believe that, right?

Who said they're sane?

The story about Christian Embassy filming a promotional video in the Pentagon has gotten a fair amount of play in the blogosphere lately, but not enough in the MSM, although WaPo has this story:

In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military.

"I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate," Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. "And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I'm an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am."

Pete Geren, a former acting secretary of the Air Force who oversaw the service's response in 2005 to accusations that evangelical Christians were pressuring cadets at the Air Force Academy, also appears in the video. The Christian Embassy "has been a rock that I can rely on, been an organization that helped me in my walk with Christ, and I'm just thankful for the service they give," he says.

A senior Air Force general says "God first, country third." The officer who handled the violations of freedom of relgion at the Air Force Academy is part of this group. (That whole scene in itself should have been a screaming alarm for people.)

It's not that treatment of people who want to support particular personal positions publicly is even-handed or anything.

This year, Navy chaplain Gordon J. Klingenschmitt was court-martialed for appearing in uniform at a political protest in front of the White House, though he maintained that all he did was lead a prayer.

Weinstein noted that his son and daughter-in-law, who are serving as first lieutenants in the Air Force, received written permission in July to appear in a documentary based on the book "Constantine's Sword," a history of Christian anti-Semitism.

"They may appear on camera for this documentary, but as they will be speaking for themselves, as private citizens, not for the Air Force, they cannot appear in uniform," says the order, a copy of which Weinstein provided to The Washington Post.

"Weinstein" is former JAG Mikey Weinstein, who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Read this interview at Salon. It's illuminating, and really, really scary.

And then there's Sam Brownback, who wants to hold up a federal judical appointment because the appointee was a guest at a same-sex commitment ceremony: It so happens he's a member of a shadowy group known mainly as "the Family."

In order to supposedly understand the judge's views, Brownback is asking for a play-by-play of a ceremony a nominee for a federal court seat attended, despite the fact he has been a member of a secretive, extremist group for years, the rules of which require that he remain silent about it. This might be understandable behavior in an eighteen-year-old frat pledge, but when the person keeping secrets is a sitting senator, his group's leaders praise the "Hitler Concept" as an organizational tool and have connections to members of unfriendly foreign governments, this secrecy must be lifted.

The group is known primarily as "the Family." It was the focus of an excellent (if frightening) expose by Jeff Sharlet in the March 2003 Atlantic Monthly Harper's. An excerpt from the piece shows just how far outside the mainstream the group is. The group's leader, Doug Coe, explaining how the Family works to Kansas congressman Todd Tiahrt. Coe says it's based on

"A covenant...Like the Mafia,” Doug clarified. “Look at the strength of their bonds.” He made a fist and held it before Tiahrt's face. Tiahrt nodded, squinting. “See, for them it's honor,” Doug said. “For us, it's Jesus.”

Coe listed other men who had changed the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their “brothers”: “Look at Hitler,” he said. “Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden.” The Family, of course, possessed a weapon those leaders lacked: the “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ.

(From Nitpicker's post on Brownback at Unclaimed Territory.)

If you're like me at all, you start to see patterns in all of this, connections that aren't getting the play they need, or the public attention. Sara Robinson pulls it all together at Orcinus.

When you set the opinions of the vast majority of Americans against the extremist views the religious right staked out this year, you have to wonder: What are they thinking? Surely, they can't believe that staking out such extreme positions is the way to recover their political clout, and win back hearts and minds?

Actually: Yes. It is quite possible that this is exactly what they believe.

Which leads me to a disturbing tendency I've seen in the PC middle: "you have to understand that they really believe this, it's part of their worldview, so we have to make allowances for that." I saw that in someone's post about Ted Haggard, I've seen it in posts about James Dobson's insincere flirtations with fact, I've seen it far too many places. You have to realize that these people are not dealing with objective reality. If facts don't fit, they ignore them. I'm sure it is their worldview, but I don't have to make allowances.

I'm all in favor of religious belief -- I happen to be quite devout myself, if not always particularly observant -- but if your religion starts to interfere with your contact with the real world, you've got a problem. In the case of the nuttiest Christianists, we have a real problem, because these people are way too influential in this country. The parallel with the radical jihadists in Islam is too obvioius to need pointing out (another thing they reject, by the way).

What they are doing, whether unconsciously or deliberately, is moving the center toward their positions. I think it's deliberate: I remember the 1970s and '80s, when religious extremists were running "stealth candidates" for school boards and city councils, candidates who deliberately were mum on their real positions -- creationism in science classes, reinstatement of blue laws, restricting access to contraceptives, the works. It was deceptive and underhanded, and the moral stink of their tactics is still with us, because the tactics haven't changed.

Look, these people don't play fair. "Fair" is not in their vocabulary. Take the Keith Ellison controversy. Dennis Prager started it with his bizarre rant about the Bible being the only allowable book to swear on. Virgil Goode continued it with his racist anti-Muslim diatribe. But look what happened -- it's now Ellison's fault for doing what any sane person would do: choosing to include his own sacred writings in his ceremonial swearing in. (Of course, there's a political angle to this -- Jacobus is a Republican strategist, after all -- but without the Christianist brouhaha, she wouldn't have a crutch. Read the transcript -- she's a real piece of work, that one is.)

They're conspiracy thinkers (O'Reilly's "War on Christmas," which he invented), liars, bait-and-switch artists, nothing's ever their fault -- the Christianist reaction to the fall-out from Dobson's warping of scientific data in his Time piece is instructive (it's a plot by the Gay Agenda), and live in a perpetual stated of denial -- see this article on their reaction to a study that says, yes, indeed, everyone's doing it and has been for generations:

However, Dr. Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America (CWA) sees Finer’s report as a ploy to cast doubt on the need for abstinence-until-marriage programs. "My eyebrows went up when I first saw the numbers," she recalls, "and I thought that the results were a bit too pat because they fit so specifically into the agenda of Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute."

Did I mention conspiracy theories? And let's just ignore all the evidence that abstinence programs don't work. After all, what's a few lives in contrast to The Truth? (This article is very interesting. It's on a Christianist website and is a reprint from Agape Press. The entertaining thing about it is, they play it straight and obviously don't see the irony. And of course, since it's Agape Press -- house organ, if you'll pardon the expression, for James Dobson -- you can't believe a word in it -- the "failure" rate in abstinence only programs is astronomical.)

I'll be looking at this issue more -- it's huge and complex and ultimately, very scary for the future of this country. Come to think about it, most of what I write here is related to this in some way. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

How Far We've Come

Digby has some comments on the New Jersey civil unions event (I don't know what else to call it -- it's not over yet) that pretty much reflect what I've been thinking, and what seems to be now the open strategy of marriage advocates. This quote from Blue Jersey sums it up nicely:

Speaking at the signing of the civil unions act in Trenton this morning, Senator Loretta Weinberg told the audience she looks forward to revisiting this issue. Weinberg also said she believes the state will achieve marriage equality by the end of her next term (January 2012).

It's a good strategy on several levels. It gives the vast middle time to get used to the idea, and to realize that same-sex marriage does not, indeed, mark the end of Western civilization. It also pushes the rabid right farther and farther into the fringe (from WaPo):

Social conservative groups and some lawmakers opposed the measure, saying it brings gay relationships too close to marriage, but it easily passed the Legislature.

"It's same-sex marriage without the title," said John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage. "It uproots the cardinal values of our culture."

He said opponents would push for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex unions in New Jersey, no matter what they're called.

He's calling for exactly the kind of thing that was defeated in Arizona. It's the same stance that will, before too much longer, be repealed in Wisconsin and Virginia. (Wisconsin first, I'm sure.) The anti-marriage forces start to sound like exactly what they are: shrill, angry nutcases totally out of touch with the mainstream.

(Y'know, I'd still like to hear from someone just exactly what those "cardinal values" are. Spousal abuse? A 50% divorce rate? Torture? SUVs?)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Ass, Followed By Class

Congressman Virgil Goode (R-NC) is the latest to jump on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. He's even built in an anti-immigration twist. It's a pity he's such as ass -- he's not bad looking.

Contrast Keith Ellison's response to him and Prager:

Well, I think, again, you know, we need to dust off the Constitution and actually read it. It says specifically, explicitly, that there is no religious test for elected office. You don't have to use any book at all.

I think that, you know, if we are going to call ourselves patriots – and I certainly do — if we're going to talk about how much we love America, and Lord knows I do, that we should know that the basis of our democracy is the Constitution which expressly prohibits the application of a religious test to hold elected office.

I just think we — you know, this is an opportunity for us to have a little civics lesson in America and to help people really understand the underpinnings of our great country.

No contest.

News Of The Sea

The screen test:

A Japanese research team has succeeded in filming a giant squid live - possibly for the first time - and says the elusive creatures may be more plentiful than previously believed, a researcher said Friday.

They're real. Do you suppose we'll declare war on them?

The Democratic Plan

It turns out there was one, but the Republicans had control of Congress:

Of all the nauseating tactics used by the Republican party in the 2006, midterm election campaign, one of the more galling was their continued insistence that Democrats had "no plan" for national security. To provide cover for that bogus claim, the Senate's GOP leadership made damn sure that, on September 13, 2006, they killed 528 pages of a national-security blueprint, proposed by Democrats, called the Real Security Act of 2006 -- and then went around for the next six weeks saying the Democrats had no plan.

That legislation, dumped on an almost-straight party line vote, was one of many Democratic-sponsored measures to die in the Republican-controlled Senate in 2006 and part of a whopping three-quarters of Democratic initiatives squashed over the two years of the 109th Congress.

When you read the partial list of things that the Republicans shot down, you begin to wonder -- or maybe you stop wondering.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Anniversary To Me

Today's the first anniversary of the grown-up version of Hunter at Random. I'm thrilled to note that I am very close to 6,000 hits for the past year. If you look at the map, you'll see that I am truly world-wide, including some new visits from Africa, more from South America, the Middle East, and Asia (I've finally penetrated Japan!). Still trying to figure out Easter Island, though. (If you come back, I wish you'd leave a comment introducing yourself.)

My repeat visits seem to be solidly in Europe and America -- although it seems I've got a fan in what looks like Manila.

Small world.

I'm also getting ready to redo Hunter's Eye. As a tickle, here's one of the upcoming images on that site:

In Retrospect

Funny how you go back sometimes to things you've made or written, thinking to yourself "Oh, lord! How bad was it?" only to discover that it wasn't bad at all, and it even sounds coherent now. I wrote this essay three and a half years ago, just because. (It was really an exercise in trying to pin down the unpinnable.) It actually makes better sense now.

Can Drool With Close Supervision

Idiot of the Month: Debbie Schlussel. If you had any doubts, just consider that she's an Ann Coulter wannabe.

Judging from the comments, she's playing to her audience. Big time.

And suddenly religious affiliation is genetic? Who knew?

Just Cut 'Em Loose

Catch Andrew Sullivan's piece at TNR. I think he quite rightly zeroes in on the "conservatives" because the fundamentalists are beyond help. After all, if God told you you're right, what do you need with facts?

Cut 'em loose? That's what the Republicans should have done with the far right along ago. I think the backlash has only just started.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Book Note

I've had a copy of John Clute's Appleseed sitting there waiting for me to get to it for some time -- much too long a time, as it turns out. It's dazzling, funny, strange, and otherwise wonderful. I can hardly wait to get back to it. It's going to be my reward for submitting a couple of reviews of things that were just OK. (Finally.)

Cameron on Cleanliness

Y'know, one thing that's kind of disappointing about the really loony anti-gay clowns is that they're so good at making themselves look like fools I don't have a chance to exercize my celebrated wit. Witness this:

Back in September, The Daily Show’s Jason Jones sat down with Paul Cameron, one of the nation’s leading anti-gay activists, to ask about a defense for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Specifically, Jones asked about Bleu Copas, a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist who joined the Army after the 9/11 attacks, but was thrown out for being gay, despite his role in helping translate intercepted messages from possible terrorists.

Cameron said, “I think the country, on the aggregate, is safer without Bleu in the military.” Asked why, Cameron explained, “Guys don’t want to think about other guys, other fellas, ogling them in the shower or whatever.” Jones responded, “I know I’d rather die in a terrorist attack than suffer through an uncomfortable shower with a gay.” Cameron grudgingly responded, “Yes.”

However, according to the latest Zogby poll:

[Dr. Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center, who has written widely on the subject] said, but nearly three out of four troops said in the Zogby poll that they usually or almost always take showers privately – only 8% say they usually or almost always take showers in group stalls.

Sorry to disappoint you, Paul.

And a commenter pointed out this:

You know, there are gays and straights sharing shower facilities in:

• Every health club in America
• Every municipal swimming pool in America
• Every Y in America
• Every high school gym in America
• Every college gym in America

'Nuff said?

Presumption of Guilt

Here's the NYT story on the detention of Donald Vance, who was not only a U.S. citizen, but was working for the FBI tracking abuses.

Expand this treatment to several thousand people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and several secret prisons scattered around Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and gauge the reaction you get from some of our own citizens. The presumption too often is that they must be guilty of something, else they wouldn't have been detained. I've run into it myself in discussion groups -- the automatic assumptoin that all of these people are dangerous terrorists, when the fact point to the conclusion that most of them have been innocent. No suspicion that our own military and intelligence services are incompetent or abusive, or that the administration has given a green light to behavior that we have traditionally condemend in the strongest possible terms. "They're all terrorists."

We have had since our founding a basic principle of law in this country: the accused is innocent until proven guilty. There have always been some who presume guilt, but they've been marginalized. Now they're catered to.

Bush deserves to burn in a Christanist hell for doing that.

He Says It All

An interesting synthesis by Xpatriated Texan at Dailyi Kos. Strangely enough, I don't have much to add. I think he pretty much says it.

Headline of the Day

From WaPo:

Wizards Fall to Depleted Nuggets

Sports fans will probably know what it means. I was clueless. But it's a nice touch of bizarre for the day.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


If you look over at the sidebar, under "Featured," you'll see links to my new reviews of Shortbus and Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall. Read the reviews.

This is my third review of Ready to Catch Him, and the one in which I think I've finally gotten close to what I wanted to say. (Not that the others aren't valid, but my feeling is that if a book or other work is substantial -- and this one is -- as time goes by and it sinks into your foundations, especially if you experience it several times, your thinking gets stripped to the essentials, and then you start building a new structure to house it. My prior reviews were valid then; this one is valid now, with the additional insights provided by the film.)

It's interesting, looking back at my past reviews sometimes, particularly of those works that moved me. My first review of Glen Cook's Tyranny of the Night, for example, was really atrocious. The second, taking it in combination with Lord of the Silend Kingdom, is much more intelligent -- much closer to what I feel I should be doing in a review.

Another thing about Bartlett's book that gives me words where I didn't quite have them: it's an elegy, a memory of the loss of what we -- gay men -- once had to offer the world. Andrew Sullivan notwithstanding, I mourn the demise of "gay culture" -- it was heady, it was reckless, it was earthy and sensual, and it was the product of a kind of innocence and courage that no one else had, and no one else has still. I miss it -- I don't want to be like everyone else, and I want to live in a real world that is not completely prepackaged, and that's what we're heading for. We had something better. The mythic framework of Bartlett's novel is perfect -- we were creating myth then, and now all we have is houses, children, and SUVs.

That's quite a come-down.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Kill Muslim Children

Atrios directed me to this piece by Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon, which is a diatribe against Captain Ed for this piece about some of the fallout from this piece, originally at IMAO (whatever that is) and reposted at Right Wing Howler (which has since been shut down after a complaint by CAIR). Atrios' comment was unthinking, at best, and I expect better from him.

OK -- there's something about pots and kettles here.

The original piece is funny, in the best tradition of The Onion. (Well, maybe not the best -- The Onion's best pieces tend to be their really short ones, but this is certainly in the running.) Right Wing Howler reran it and lost their hosting after CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) complained about "hate sites." Now, CAIR is an advocacy group -- what politicians like to call "special interests" when they're referring to someone else's advocacy groups. Of course they don't want Muslims or Arabs to be the subject of satire. (F course, if you read the piece, it's obviously satire, Muslims are obviously not the target, and everyone -- CAIR, Marcotte, and Atrios -- completely missed the point.) Captain Ed's commentary seems perfectly reasonable to me, and on that basis I found Marcotte's diatribe very instructive. (I've only just started reading Captain's Quarters, and I don't agree with him on everything -- surprise! -- but he seems to be not only rational, but in fairly good contact with reality, unlike our friends at GayPatriot.)

To say that I didn't find Marcotte persuasive is sadly understating the case. "Brainless" works. Why on earth would anyone attack a commentator for referring to Jonathan Swift, with the main theme, apparently, that "how dare he do that when he obviously doesn't understand Swift," when he quite obviously does understand the application of Swift's "A Modest Proposal" in this case? The only thing I saw in Marcotte's post is that she is having a PC moment and is desperately trying to find a justification for it -- and failing miserably.

In fact, after reading her post a couple of times, I'm still not sure what the point is. I'm not sure there is a point -- unless it's to demonstrate that the left can be just as lacking in humor as it claims the right is.

Just another reminder of why I have no patience with the thought police at either end of the spectrum.

Don't take my word for it -- read the stuff yourself. The links are all there. See if you don't think Marcotte's piece is bullshit. It's the sort of thing that gives liberals a bad name.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I knew James Dobson was a liar, but I hadn't realized just how brazen he was. See this e-mail message sent to the members of Focus on the Family (and, according to Box Turtle Bulletin, it's not mentioned on their Web site at all, so this is apparently a hush-hush effort):

Gay-activist groups have mobilized to oppose an editorial in Time magazine written by Dr. James Dobson. Write the publication’s editors and let them know that you appreciate them publishing “Two Mommies Is One Too Many,” Dr. Dobson’s piece on why children “do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father.” …

Homosexual-advocacy groups posted Internet and email alerts this week expressing “outrage” that Time published Dr. Dobson’s essay. Supporters of same-sex marriage, parenting and adoption are trying to challenge long-standing social science data that children do best with a married mother and father, claiming that newer research discredits these findings — a claim that many respected experts in this field reject. As part of this effort, gay activist organizations are asking their supporters to write Time and complain that Dr. Dobson’s essay is inaccurate.

Well, no. I guess by Dobson's standards, I count as a "homosexual advocacy group." Sorry, it's not groups that are mobilizing, it's individuals who are outraged at Dobson's effrontery -- including the two social scientists he named in his article. Second, children do not "do best. . . etc." At least, there is absolutely no evidence to support that contention. None.

Third, no one is claiming that new research discredits those findings, because those findings never existed to begin with. "Gay activist organizations" are not asking their supporters to write to Time -- although anti-gay hate groups are.

My mom, bless her Appalachian heart, used to talk about "bald-faced liars." Guess what.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More Faith-Based Science

Sometimes you read things that you swear were published in The Onion, and it turns out to be a Christianist scandal sheet:

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products.

First off, there's no evidence that there is a "rise in homosexuality." We're just tired of hiding, that's all. However, there seem to be two mutually exclusive things going on here -- note that, in addition to leading to homosexuality, soy products also reduce penis size. However, there is this study (and we're talking real science here, not the faith-based stuff):

Abstract: The relation between sexual orientation and penile dimensions in a large sample of men was studied. Subjects were 5122 men interviewed by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction from 1938 to 1963. They were dichotomously classified as either homosexual (n = 935) orheterosexual (n = 4187). Penile dimensions were assessed using five measures of penile length and circumference from Kinsey's original protocol. On all five measures, homosexual men reported larger penises than did heterosexual men. Explanations for these differences are discussed, including the possibility that these findings provide additional evidence that variations in prenatal hormonal levels (or other biological mechanisms affecting reproductive structures) affect sexual orientation development.

And before you ask, I'm not telling.

(OK, strictly speaking, penis size and incidence of homosexuality are not particularly related in the quote from WingNutDaily, since "decrease" is relative. [For all you size queens, think what it would be like without the vanilla soy latte every morning.] But I couldn't resist)

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, one of whose readers comes up with this observation:

Of course I am pleased by this result but the statistical part of my brain is more skeptical. One concern is that the sample sizes for homosexuals and heterosexuals are quite different. If the distributions are positively skewed (fewer observations on the positive end of the distribution, sigh) then it's possible that the higher mean in the smaller sample is an artifact of the distribution. It would be nice to know if this result holds when equating for sample size, or when calculating medians. I didn't see any note of this in the manuscript. Can your readers help?


Several readers at Andrew Sullivan say not to worry -- the likelihood of the results being skewed on that study is miniscule.

Mary's Baby

A letter to the editor of Time:

Dear Patrick Smith:

After seeing the controversy over Time's publication of James Dobson's thoughts on Mary Cheney's pregnancy, I was finally able to take a few minutes to read Dobson's piece. I am gratified that Time also saw fit to publish the rebuttal by Jennifer Chrisler, but wonder why it took two days to present an accurate and opposing viewpoint.

As for Dobson's screed, my first question is "Why does Time feel it necessary to have an anti-gay propagandist, and one known for mendacity, comment on Mary Cheney's private life?" I doubt that anyone was unsure of his position, and if his claim that he was approached to contribute the article is accurate (of which only he and you know the truth), why? Surely you weren't expecting a balanced and rational discussion of gay families. I find it hard to believe that there is nothing else in the world controversial enough for comment -- perhaps you should have asked Dr. Dobson for his opinion on the repeal of habeas corpus.

Second, since Dobson is a known prevaricator, particularly when making reference to "scientific studies" on the subject of gays and lesbians, I'm amazed that Time would publish this essay without at the very least a disclaimer branding it as Dobson's opinion -- unless, of course, Time is in agreement with his demonstrably specious conclusions. (And I note that two of the researchers he cited have already protested his distortions of their work.)

While I'm the last to say that Dobson is not entitled to his opinions, as ignorant and wrong-headed as they may be, I see no reason why Time has to give him yet another soapbox.

I have to point out that in addition to Dobson's predictably innaccurate screed, Time has also published a rebuttal by Jennifer Chrisler -- which, incidentally, is now getting some prominence over Dobson's original in the sidebar on the home page.

My basic question remains: why go to Dobson for an opinion? It's not like he doesn't have other means of making his biases known, and everyone already knows what his biases are.

And, one wonders what kind of controversy would have been generated if Cheney and Poe had decided to adopt a child?

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Anti-Science

An article by Sahotra Sarkar at American Prospect on the Creationists' new strategy:

According to Gonzales and Richards, conditions on Earth have been carefully optimized for scientific investigation in such a way that it is "a signal revealing a universe so skillfully created for life and discovery that it seems to whisper of an extraterrestrial intelligence immeasurably more vast, more ancient, and more magnificent than anything we've been willing to expect to imagine." The evidence for creation, in other words, now comes from physics, not biology.

Of course, there's always the possibility that we're smart enough to have figured out the basic mechanisms of the universe and develop means of exploration that take advantage of them. What a bunch of idiots.

The goal, of course, is to stab evolution in the back, since frontal assaults have repeatedly failed. We can expect more false reasoning, straw men, and red herrings, but this time in the realm of physics.

This also seems like a good time to call attention to TalkOrigins and a few other good sites. Check out the "Interesting Ideas" group in the sidebar.

And speaking of non-scientific approaches to evolution -- or, rather, their complete irrelevance -- here's an article from NYT on some recent human evolution.

What delights me about something like this article is that it does demonstrate how completely inconsequential people like Michael Behe, Jonathan Dembski, and Philip Johnson are in terms of seriously affecting the course of science. There's even a nice bonus here: the research was done by a group at an American university.

All is not lost.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Speaking of evolution (which I will be, as you scroll down), Dale Carpenter at Volokh Conspiracy has noticed something. Speaking of Massachusetts:

Almost three years into the recognition of gay marriage, with no evidence of ill effects, polls in the state show majorities now supporting gay marriage.

What he doesn't mention is that the rallying cry of the anti-gay Christianists has shifted, in the case of Massachusetts and California, from "tyranny of unelected judges" to "tyranny of a few people in power in the legislature." In other words, "Unless I get my way, it's tyranny."

Of course they're in a panic. Same-sex marriage and near-marriage are becoming reality in more and more places in this country, and most people don't give a shit. Poor downtrodden power-hungry bigots. Cue violin.


A post from PZ Myers. Myers does what I (hopefully) do, which is to broaden the question. I've seen references to the NARAL story a couple of places, but Myers takes it to that place others only referred to in passing: the role of advocacy groups. I'm going to bring in another thread to this discussion: HRC and the other "mainstream" gay groups. This stance is exactly what's at the root of my dissatisfaction, and why Matthew Foreman made my idiots list: it's our fight, why aren't you fighting?

Myers has it right:

My goal is to shift the debate towards my position (without expecting that everyone will adopt my specific views), and I can't accomplish that by letting the rope go slack and drifting towards someone else's position.

So, loud and proud, baby. Fight for your ideas, not those that someone else tells you are examples of what the majority wants to hear. Majorities are made of individuals, and the only way we'll ever get an honest consensus is if everyone is singing out frankly for their own beliefs.

Exactly. Don't move to the "center." Move the center toward you. It worked for the Christianists, and now we have to take it back.

New Blog, Old Animals

Well, new to me -- he's actually been blogging longer than I have. Olduvai George, with thanks to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for the link. A natural history illustrator who does a fair amount of reconstruction of extinct animals, apparently. With, as you might expect, some fascinating insights into evolution and its meanings. Myers linked to this post, with a stunning portrait of not only Brontops, but also Hyracodon.. Brontops was related to horses, tapirs and rhinos, while Hyracodon was already in the early rhino line. (Tapirs and rhinos happen to be among my favorite contemporary animals -- there is something so early Eocene about them that I find them hard to resist.) (If you click on the image, it will take you to a window where you can run a slide show of his paintings and drawings. Check it out.)

I just love shit like this. Suddenly I'm back to being about seven or eight years old wandering around in the tiny woods near our house thinking about what it was all like back when. I mean, I have nothing against dinosaurs, I think they're great, but the ones that really get to me are the early mammals. Fascinating.


An homage by Digby vindicating all of us who opposed the war, and a portrait in true patriotism.

Friday, December 08, 2006


I've finally put together an off-site site for the posts on Brokeback Mountain. It's still not finished (needs a final polish or two), but the posts are all there.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Virgin Birth

Mary Cheney's pregnant, and I, for one, am very happy for her and Heather Poe. The kid is going to have every advantage (give or take growing up in a house with a warped political philosophy).

Needless to say, the Christianists are all over it. This sort of says it all:

Carrie Gordon Earll, a policy analyst for the conservative Christian ministry Focus on the Family, expressed empathy for the Cheney family but depicted the newly announced pregnancy as unwise.

"Just because you can conceive a child outside a one-woman, one-man marriage doesn't mean it's a good idea," said. "Love can't replace a mother and a father."

You can't make this stuff up. I don't understand why anyone would want to.

Here is a really stupid comment by Kevin McCullough at (where else?) Townhall.

It's short, and fairly appalling. (I just took another look at it. It's even more appalling that I had at first thought.) The reasoning, phrasing, support -- where there is any -- are just beyond the pale. He very dramatically asks all the usual questions, without referring to the fact that the answers are a) pretty obvious, and b) none of his business. Then he goes on to perpetrate the lie that "scientific evidence" shows that mommy and daddy are best, when in fact there is no such evidence. Every reputable study indicates just the opposite: two parents are best, but their sex doesn't make a difference.

It's an incredibly self-important piece of drivel. I don't know if McCullough is considered a substantial commentator on the right, but if he is, they're in serious trouble. I mean, the questions are just ignorant ("How did the exclusive sexual union of these two women bring about this conception?" Mmm. . . 1) does he know for a fact that it's exclusive? and 2) Artifical insemination, as it said in the news stories. Duh!), specious ("What does it mean to the supposed "intimacy" that "two people share" which was intended by the Creator to be a function that creates life, to be forced to include a third party?" If he'd bother to read the news, he would have known about the artificial insemination, which doesn't generally include a live-in stud male. Unless, of course, he means the child as the third party, and I think that's the whole point.); here's a bait-snd switch ("Doesn't it make a rather strong statement that biologically speaking, the sexual union these two women share - is in fact, scientifically speaking - inadequate?" Note once again the equivalence of love with "sexual union." The right can't seem to make the distinction. And "scientifically speaking, inadequate"? What the hell does that mean? Science doesn't deal with "adequate" or "inadequate." Them's value judgments.) Let's face it, the "important questions" are a crock.

It's also a vicious piece of wide-open hate mail. Consider that the piece begins with a denial of Mary Cheney's identity: the headline reads "Cheney's Daughter Who Engages in Lesbianism -- Is Pregnant?" Not "Mary Cheney," but "Cheney's daughter." Not "she's a lesbian," but she "engagees in lesbianism." This, of course, as does the post as a whole, has to take into consideration that same-sex relationships can't encompass things like love, mutual support, mutual caring, or any of the "normal" characteristics that result in a 50% heterosexual divorce rate and that it's a choice that you can be cured of. So you start by denying any possibility of human feeling between Cheney and Poe. You have to, otherwise you have no ground to stand on.

The comments are the expected mix of ignorance and bile. (I was going to leave one, just to point out the bullshit about "scientific studies prove," but given the fact that, as I might expect from a publication that favors the police state, they just want too much information to register, I dropped the idea. That's one mailing list I certainly don't want to be on.)

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for this link. I think.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Words Fail Me

Anyone who can not only condone something like this but order it deserves our deepest contempt. All you America-hating rightwingers take note: this is an American citizen picked up in Chicago on trumped-up charges that have since disappeared, held incommunicado for three and a half years, and destroyed for nothing. This is what happens to "enemy combatants," so designated by that pissy queen in the White House. (Sorry, boys and girls, but you don't have to be gay to be a queen.)

The bitterest part is that we -- the American people and the American press -- let him get away with it. There's even a few sickos who think it's OK.

See this commentary by Glenn Greenwald:

[W]hy isn't this most patent violation of our country's core principles, whereby our fellow citizens are being imprisoned and tortured by our government with no charges, prompting genuine anger?

This is the reason why. Over the last five years, the media (with some notable and noble exceptions) essentially embraced the central premise of the Bush administration -- that in order for us to be protected, we must place our faith in the Leader and know that he is doing Good, because he wants to protect us. . . .

The Bush administration was able to invade Iraq, imprison and torture people (including U.S. citizens), and repeatedly and openly break the law not because the Howard Kurtz's of our country failed in their duty as journalists (although they did, profoundly). It goes beyond that. They affirmatively believed in those things -- and in many cases, still do -- every bit as much as the President and his government did, and they worked in harmonious concert with the administration to do as much, if not more, to enable it.

How many names must we have on the list before people begin to notice? The Brandon Mayfield debacle cost us $2 million. Can you imagine what the bill for Jose Padilla is going to be?

If this administration isn't impeached, then there's no hope for the country. This is just vile.

Bye-Bye Bolton, Buh-Bye

Good riddance. Aside from that, there's this choice comment, via NYT:

In a strongly worded statement issued this morning, Mr. Bush excoriated Mr. Bolton’s opponents on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for refusing to send his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.

“They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time,” Mr. Bush said. “This stubborn obstructionism ill-serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation.”

Majority support in the Senate is, of course, the reason Bush had to make a recess appointment. (Mmm -- and can we talk about "pissy bitches"?)

Steve Clemmons has a nice commentary on the whole thing, with this telling observation:

My problem with Ambassador Bolton was never his cosmetic behavior, it was the content of his views and policy objectives, and the numerous times in which he undermined or sabotaged fragile diplomatic efforts underway and conducted by his colleagues and direct superiors.

John Bolton, in my view, saw a significant portion of his job as not to achieve success at the United Nations but rather to set the UN up for failure.

That's at the root of my whole problem with the "conservative" attitude toward the UN. It's called self-fulfilling prophecy": if you want it to fail, and if you send an ambassador whose purpose is to make it fail, it will fail. Aside from the childish reaction of those who want to get rid of the UN becuse we don't always get our way (the real problem with any democratic institution, in their eyes), it's the deliberate spoiling that gets to me.


Tiresias, in case your Greek mythology has gotten rusty was a seer who was blinded and also had his sex changed by the gods -- prophecy is not a no-risk business.

One thing I've been struck by, both in the run-up to the election and since, is the number of people who have been willing to tell the Democrats how to avoid disaster. Of course, before the election it was mainly the right-wing stalwarts, whose message basically boiled down to "be Republicans." Since, it's been a heady mix of the rightards and a few quasi-democrats, like Evan Bayh.

White House hopeful Sen. Evan Bayh (news, bio, voting record) warned on Monday that Democrats could lose their newfound grip on Congress if the party pursues an ideological course. . . .

Bayh said Democrats must seek practical answers to the daily challenges facing Americans. If not, the party's control of Congress could be brief.

"Otherwise, the country will not be well-served and our position in power may not be very long," said Bayh, who also met privately with Iowa activists and spent time fundraising.

OK -- let's belabor the obvious. It's the "partisan" thing that gets me. Bayh and those like him have made "partisan" a dirty word, taking their cue from the Rove machine,, and it's just stupid, especially since it's been the Gingrich faction of the right that has made rabid partisanship the mode of discourse. The Democrats have no choice but to be partisan, but it's the tone and quality of that partisanship that's important. We're graced with such "bipartisan" White House flacks as Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, and John McCain. Please. Spare me. The truth of the matter is, they're the sugar-coated partisans of the right -- stealth candidates, if you will.

I much prefer the kind of partisanship displayed by Al Gore these days: he's become a partisan for the issues.

Footnore: My radical leftist credentials.

I spent some time this morning exploring Daily Kos. I don't read it, usually. In fact, I haven't for . . . well, I think I must have looked at it once or twice, sometime.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Yours, Mine, and Theirs

Symbols, I mean. Two stories that, strangely enough, sort of clung to each other this morning:

What's odd about this story is that the Armed Forces recognize Wicca and the chaplain's guidebook (whatever it's called -- I've forgotten) has a section on Wiccan ritual practice.

The widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan saw a Wiccan symbol placed on a memorial plaque for her husband Saturday, after fighting the federal government for more than a year over the emblem.

Not really having a conspiracy-theory mentality, I think it's probably just another case of the Pentagon not being able to find its ass with both hands.

And then:

If you thought Dennis Prager was just trying to get some attention with the whole Keith Ellison piece, read his comments in this story when faced with the fact that the actual swearing in does not use a Bible or any other book -- that's for the commemorative photo:

But Prager argued in a telephone interview that the ceremony was no less significant than the actual swearing-in.

"Oh, that's the whole point - it's exactly because it's ceremonial that it matters to me," he said. "Ceremonies matter. Ceremonies are exceedingly important. That is the way a society states what is most significant to it."

Prager argued that the issue wasn't about freedom of religion.

"I want Jews like myself to take the oath on the Bible, even though the New Testament is not our Bible," he said.

Asked if it would be a problem for a Jewish lawmaker to take the oath on a Bible that included only the Old Testament, Prager responded, "Yes, it would," because he said the point is to honor the "Bible of this country."

This man has problems. Serious problems.

Lindsay Beyerstein has something to say about AP's coverage of this non-news item:

So, who, exactly, is faulting newly-elected Muslim congressman Keith Ellison for asking to pose with the Quran for his post Oath of Office photo op? Townhall fixture Dennis Prager, unnamed right wing bloggers, and...that's it.

In fairness to the AP reporter, I'm sure he tried unsuccessfully to find a man-on-the street who gave a shit before calling up Dennis Prager.

Don't forget that of course, the Wildmon Gang got itself involved. Do you suppose they pay people to keep a lookout for non-issues that can be slanted and then blown way beyond any sense as a fundraising method? And do you suppose their followers could possibly be stupid enough to fall for it? Oh, wait. . . .

Saturday, December 02, 2006


We're at 5511 hits for the blog. That seemed a good number to comment on. Thanks to you all.

(I'm still trying to figure out the one from Easter Island.)

BTW, Blogger is being Blogger today, so I wasn't able to put in some pictures that I wanted to include. Look for them when it decides to play nice.

An Addition to the Idiots' Brigade

Matt Foreman..

Newt "Defends" the First Amendment

There's been some flap on the left about Newt Gingrich's recent speech on First Amendment rights, most of which is related to possible curtailment of those rights in light of the WOT. The right is praising his suggestion for expanding First Amendment rights by rescinding McCain-Feingold, a favorite target of Republicans because, of course, their donors are the big-money guys. Stephen Bainbridge, trying to be fair, comes up with this one:

To be sure, there is some risk of money leading to corruption.

I'm sorry, but I had to laugh. McCain-Feingold isn't perfect, and I doubt that we can come up with finance reform that is, but that particular "insight" was just too much. With the example of Abramoff and all the other corruption scandals in Washington (which, please remember, our good friends at GayPatriot labelled "The Democrats' Culture of Corruption"), it's nice of Bainbridge to broach that possibility.

Of course, one thing that the right wing doesn't want to discuss when calling for the repeal of campaign finance reform, or deregulation of monopolies (it seems AT&T is poised to become, once again, a monopoly, but this time without the regulation) is that this regulation is a reaction to past excesses. Contrary to the prevailing mantra on the right, Democrats don't just regulate stuff for the hell of it. There has, in general, been a cause. (Certain basic services, such as communications and utilities, are best regulated, or made state enterprises, although in this country the idea of relying on the state for electical power is scary. OF course, Commonwealth Edison can't always deliver, so maybe the state running it wouldn't be that bad.)

One problem I have with the whole discussion is that the right is prepared to take Gingrich's comments at face value, and the left is assuming it's code for an authoritarian state. Captain Ed has a discussion that falls into the former category. My reaction is somewhat different. Take this quote from Gingrich's speech:

This is a serious long term war, and it will enviably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country, that will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear of biological weapons. . . .

This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement.

On the face of it, it'spretty innocuous, and I don't think I want to credit even Gingrich with subterfuge here. My problem is in the execution, starting with the dialogue. Gingrich, like most on the far right and the far left, isn't patient with disagreement. And frankly, the ways this kind of approach has been carried out by the present administration are cause for grave concern. I have no reason to believe that Gingrich would be more competent as president, or have more integrity or more respect for what America is.

Let's face it -- this is the start of his presidential campaign. From the looks of it, Gingrich is playing the fear card early.

I have to agree with Keith Olbermann: it's the recourse of those who have no faith in their own ideas. Because their "ideas" are smokescreens for one idea: power.

Speaking of Naked Pictures

I'm still thinking about Shortbus. For some reason, I have much more difficulty reviewing films than I do books or music -- probably because with a book or CD, I can sit there and experience it again, but with films I have to shell out another $7 to $10 bucks and get there when it's convenient for them. I did check out a few other reviews. The short one by NYT's Manohla Dargis missed the point completely, but Jim Emerson's at Roger Ebert seems pretty solid, and even points out something I missed. And, thinking about it, that pulls a couple of things into focus.

Funny thing, in some ways the film reminds me of Neil Bartlett's Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall, a book I dearly love. Maybe there is a gay sensibility.

Althouse On Art

I thought I'd take a pass by Althouse this morning, just for the hell of it, so see if she's said anything intelligent. Nope. Instead, she came up with this. This quote sort of sums it up:

Really, I would have preferred a full-of-himself artist revealing a lack of sensitivity toward the subject, but that's speaking only of the documentary I'd like to watch.

Ann -- stick to grading papers.

(PS -- I didn't see the documentary, discussed by NYT here, but I know Tunick's work, which is pretty much always interesting and sometimes challenging. Althouse obviously doesn't get it.)

Update: I checked out this post from Althouse, and even with an undergrad degree in art, she still doesn't get it. Probably a good thing she went into law.

The artist can move around looking for a good angle on a pose, but with some models there are no interesting angles. Try drawing a thin man!

Obviously she'd never seen Egon Schiele's works from 1910-1912.

The Bitch Is Back

I can be one, if it seems warranted. Text of an e-mail I sent to the AFA, based on this:

Dear Donald Wildmon:

I've just read your call to action based on Dennis Prager's rabidly anti-American screed against Congressman-elect Ellison of Minnesota.

Even you should know that the law you are asking your followers to demand from Congress is directly probhibited by both Article VI and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

You do remember the Constitution, don't you? Our governing document? Perhaps you should take a look at it sometime, even if you don't pay any attention to it -- and, from what you've said in the past, you could care less.

Given your tremendous victory on the federal Anti-Marriage Amendment, maybe it's time to demand another constitutional change.


Robert M. Tilendis

PS -- Please do not put me on an e-mail list for your propaganda. I have to delete too much pornography spam as it is. Also, if it's not too much trouble, could you please call for a boycott of the film "Shortbus"? It needs some help at the box office.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Heroes Among Us

Recommended Reading:

This post at Orcinus. This is a key point:

I think a key to understanding this illogic, if such a thing is possible, lies in recognizing that these people conceive of themselves as heroes engaged in a heroic task. Once a person claims that status for himself, at least in his own self-conception, all kinds of obvious contradictions are immediately resolvable, since the blunt force of the hero's moral superiority rub out any such distinctions. They are right no matter what "facts" may argue otherwise.

He's talking about the severely rightwing pundits and wannabes, but take it one step farther: translate that mentality into a foreign policy.

'Nuff said?

The Idiots' Brigade

Kenneth Prager is still the unchallenged Idiot of the Week, but I present the runners-up:

Thanks to TBogg for these choice bits:

From the irrelevant Ann Althouse:

One way to explain his awkward behavior with respect to the presidential receiving line is that he thought through that scene like a novelist. If you were writing a novel about a character like him going through a receiving line with a President like Bush, wouldn't that be exactly the sort of scene you'd want to think up?

Ordinarily, in all sorts of social and political situations, people try to figure out how other people usually act and to stick to the convention and proceed smoothly along. This is nice enough, but rather boring. In a novel, a conventional social situation tends to be a set up for our hero to do something that shakes things up. The ordinary characters are aghast. They condemn the bad behavior of the protaganist, and we readers, in our armchairs, know how right he is. Of course, a novelist who concocts scenes like that is himself utterly conventional.

I don't think Webb has quickly picked up the Washington style. I think he's got the novelist's style, and he's his own hero Senator in a novel about Washington. And, what immense fun this is going to be!

And Althouse is nothing if not conventional. That must be why she's so boring.

And then, there's always self-styled film critic/culture wars jihadist Michael Medved:

In America's ongoing culture war, with ferocious combatants grabbing every available weapon to strike at each other, innocent children and adorable penguins simultaneously qualify as collateral damage. Recent controversies involving environmental and gay-marriage messages in Hollywood cartoons and storybooks for young children show that in our current climate, even the youngest kids and the most endearing denizens of Antarctica can become targets and instruments of powerful propaganda.

I'm not making this up. Believe me -- I've tried.

And of course, the Democrats, for piling on Jim Webb after his exchange with the preznit -- at the behest of George Will, perhaps? (That's the George Will who lied about the encounter in print.) See this comment from Digby:

Here's Will, quoted by Greg Sargent:

Wednesday's Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb "tried to avoid President Bush," refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq." When the president again asked "How's your boy?" Webb replied, "That's between me and my boy."

Will says the episode demonstrates Webb's "calculated rudeness toward another human being" -- i.e., the President -- who "asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another."

Here's what was actually said, as confimed by WaPo and Webb:

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

According to some sources,. Webb probably should have said more.

And the Democrats are going along with this? Jayzus!